Let’s All Agree to MWFA:
Make Work Fun Again
Never in my adult working life have I been as motivated, excited, and consistently gratified as I am right now. Don’t misunderstand me, though. A lot of what I’m curating is in very infant stages, so everything is new and exciting — kind of like a new relationship you’re trying not to mess up with your personality quirks and unavoidable emotional baggage. I am well aware that a work plateau is indubitably on the horizon, but the reason I’m in this current sweet spot is what interests me the most.
A majority of my time recently has been spent having in-depth conversations with facilitators and company leaders, discussing how best to bridge the gap between stagnation and growth as a team. The vagueness of these interactions is not to be overlooked. A common concern in the workplace—in addition to the newly minted medical diagnosis of burnout—is lack of creativity. We tend to get comfortable in our job descriptions (not a bad thing) and inevitably proceed to autopilot (not a great thing). I’m continuously intrigued by what it is that pushes our creativity and excitement back to the forefront of our minds.
I like to think that I am a poster child for switching careers at a time that I needed it the most. In 2012, after years of working in Marketing, I quit my job and moved to Thailand. The decision to do this didn’t come overnight — in fact, I had been plotting this switch on and off since I had graduated college. I knew I wanted to do more than rise the ranks as a Marketing professional. I found myself participating in poor lifestyle choices on a daily basis and my job became more about monetary gain than anything else. I was unhappy, under-appreciated, scarily unhealthy and totally off track with my personal values. To realize this at the age of 24 was a big “holy shit” moment. I had the rest of my twenties —seemingly the best years of my young adult life—ahead of me and I was spiraling toward a dead-end of overconsumption. I needed a change of scenery…and fast.
My story is not unlike a lot of Millennials. A single track job doesn’t seem to fit our generational desire for stimulation and excitement, but I will argue that we are a product of a side-hustle culture designed to move us ahead at our own (fast moving) pace. A corner office doesn’t have the pull for a lot of people my age in the sense that there is so much more to being content than a set salary and a gold name plate. That isn’t to say a corner office isn’t something to strive for — I love me a good window view — but the intrigue and desire to flourish runs deeper than that. It’s a visceral need for creative spark and fulfillment. Moving to Thailand was my (very dramatic) way of getting outside of the office to do something I hadn’t done since the beginning of college: have a meaningful experience.
A Meaningful Experience. I want to bottle this up and serve it to everyone who needs it - which, just so happens to be, a majority of us. The beauty of this is that meaningful experiences happen in a variety of ways - in line at the grocery store, while reading a book at bedtime, walking the dog, on vacation, during a long run, at breakfast while eating a life-changing cinnamon roll. The main quality of a meaningful experience is easy to determine: it has significant impact on you. It’s meaningful.
Only recently did I realize why work became fun again. I have been busy hustling back and forth to school, reading new articles and journals and books, getting inspiration from new people and places and, above all, meaningful interactions and experiences.
I listened to Ann Bancroft, a prominent author and female polar explorer, discuss her life’s work becoming the first woman to reach both poles via the ice. After her presentation, we had a conversation about taking risks and the benefits of getting outside of your comfort zone. This turned into further conversation about packing in these life lessons into multi-day programs available for everyone from high school students to CEO’s.
A couple of weeks later, I (serendipitously) ran into Dick Beardsley, long-distance runner turned fishing guide turned speaker. He was giving a presentation to a group up here at Sugar Lake Lodge and after I calmed down as his biggest fan (I’m a runner too, we discussed it for a solid 45 minutes) I discovered that his message of resiliency and positivity were exactly in line with the values we’re promoting through the Leadership Center. Dick’s presentation hit me at the exact right time, as I needed a boost of positivity after a particularly grueling couple of weeks.
Both Ann and Dick have been incredibly instrumental in the inspiration for us building activities and programs that align with our beliefs of the power of authentic experiences. Getting (literally) outside of the office gives way to discovering new leaders, new skills, clearer thinking, and the rediscovering of core values. A few groups with whom I have helped facilitate team building activities this past week told me the two things they found the most impactful about their programs were:
A fresh, new environment conducive to creative thinking
Experiential activities that were challenging, fun, and meaningful
With that, I encourage you to find someone or something to Make Work Fun Again. I don’t suggest quitting your job and moving to Thailand per-say (though I absolutely DO condone this decision, happy to support!) but outlining a process to get you, your team, or your entire company on a more creative, productive path is an excellent first step. There is abounding research available on the benefits of nature for our mental health, including the creativity boost that comes from even a fifteen minute walk outside. Collaborate with others, connect with people who inspire you, seek clarity in the work you do and, above all, find that creative spark and ignite it.